Article Summary: Weaning beef calves early can be an excellent, cost-effective way to address drought and financial concerns by maintaining herd health and conserving water, high-quality feed and lush pasture while maximising your market value. However, if not implemented and managed correctly, it has the potential to harm your herd and cripple you financially. This article offers practical tips to consider at each journey step and what you need to know before deciding whether early weaning is the right approach for your beef production facility.

Climate change. Weakening economies. The rising scarcity and cost of feed. With the biggest global environmental concerns of our time currently affecting farms worldwide, farmers are seeking ways to mitigate these issues to ensure their long-term survival. These are issues that concern you, too.

One way to do this is to wean your beef cattle early. Implementing a rigid, documented strategy to separate them safely from their mother brings many benefits, including:

  1. Maintaining the fertility of your herd. You’ll be able to prepare your cows for their next calving sooner by monitoring their fat score for readiness to calve.

  2. The conservation of high-quality feed. Feeding calves directly rather than via the cow ensures optimum energy and nutrient transfer, giving you better mileage on your supplementary feed.

  3. The best use of high-quality pasture. By moving weaned cows to lower-quality pastures, growing juveniles will benefit from your high-quality, greener pastures.

  4. Saving on water usage. Early weaning is reported to cut water consumption by 60%, thanks to fewer cows with dependent calves. 

  5. Maximising your assets and increasing value. With shorter calving cycles and complete overseeing of your animals, you’ll be able to identify and sell dry, aging, or empty cows sooner and calves, too. You’ll also be able to monitor cow condition better, enabling you to focus on those cows needing to improve theirs. Having clarity will help you maximise your financial capabilities.

This blog outlines top tips for implementing, executing and managing the early weaning of beef calves. While the process can be an excellent way to address drought and financial concerns, if not done correctly, it has the potential to harm your herd and hurt you in the long run.

The platform and its revolutionary AI learns about your farm through AI and gives you unlimited record-keeping and analytical capabilities through automation. When used in conjunction with this guide, you can achieve maximum weaning and, thus, production efficiency while using all your available resources sustainably.

We suggest you follow the advice outlined in the stages below, and if in doubt, find a recommended livestock expert or vet in your area for further assistance. 

A guide to early weaning by stage

Below is a list of practical tips and considerations within each crucial step of the early weaning process. Read and save this list before you begin to implement your weaning strategy. If you require further information, it is best to contact your trusted vet or livestock expert in your area.

Age of calves

  • Condition is key when deciding on who to wean.

  • Calves 12 weeks old or 100kg are ideal for weaning as they tend to require less protein and are accustomed to grazing and feeding on grain.

  • Calves younger than this or under 80kg can be more difficult to wean successfully without a milk replacer and concentrates as they wean.

  • Early weaning performance is greatly increased if calves are in mobs of similar size and age.


  • It’s recommended to feed all weaning calves some post-weaning supplements before they are removed from their mother. If they are to be fed grain, feed them some portions while still on the cow to ensure they cope with the change.

  • Microbial populations can take up to 14 days to adapt to a new diet. Calves may need post-weaning supplements fed gradually over fourteen days before they are weaned.

  • Vaccinating calves for pinkeye 3-6 weeks before weaning is recommended.


  • Avoid castration and dehorning during the weaning process to limit the calf's stress and potential weight loss.

  • Yard weaning is recommended.

  • To avoid pinkeye infections, keep yards damp, and consider dust masks to limit fly activity, a cause of the condition.

  • Provide high-quality feed and fresh water in clean troughs.

  • Avoid powdery feed that may increase rubbing and itching of eyes, increasing pinkeye risk.

  • Administer Vitamins A, D and E via injection if both cow and calf have been on dry pasture or grain diets for four months.

  • Keep all needles and tagging equipment clean, sanitised and replenished to reduce infections.


Energy & protein requirements

  • The younger the calf, the larger the dietary requirements while the rumen grows.

  • Recommended growth rate for a calf is 0.6kg per day minimum until they reach 250kg.

  • Feed given must be high-quality to ensure performance and feed intake while their rumen develops.

  • Pasture-only diets do not contain the protein and energy requirements for a weaned calf and growing juvenile. Insufficient protein intake will result in stunted growth.

  • Ensure supplementary feed is dry and not damp to enable the calf to consume enough.

  • Assess pasture regularly before weaning commences (and afterwards) to ensure it can provide the necessary dietary requirements along with the supplementary feed

  • Introduce concentrates and grains gradually with a bicarb buffer to avoid acidosis.

  • Sources of protein for weaned calves include:

    • Green pasture,

    • Lupins,

    • Peas,

    • Canola meal,

    • Linseed meal, and

    • Soybean meal


  • Calves require access to fresh water in troughs—not from dams.

  • Ensure salinity, acidity, algal growth and pollution are under control through regular monitoring and cleaning of troughs.

  • A large bung at the base of your troughs is recommended for easy cleaning and refilling.

  • Keep water and feed troughs separate to allow shy feeders access to feed troughs while dominant feeders are at the water troughs.


  • Calcium is the most important mineral in a calf’s diet, so it is recommended to add calcium to feed at a rate of 1.5 parts calcium to 100 parts by grain weight. 

  • Calcium pellets also offer complete rations for weaned calves.


  • Roughage plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy rumen.

  • Acidosis is prevalent in grain-only diets, so it is recommended to include fibre to prevent the condition.

  • Fibre increases saliva production, which includes salt and acts as a buffer against acidosis. It also decreases fermentation rates.

  • Sources of fibre include:

    • Barley straw or

    • Export sheep pellets

  • Ensure straw roughage is chopped and not milled to dust.

  • Avoid feeding wheat to your calves, which causes rapid fermentation in delicate digestive systems.

  • You can give small amounts of molasses with fibre to ensure it is palatable for your calves.

  • Cud chewing indicates a healthy rumen, as does a pat that can be trailed without bubbles or visible traces of straw.

Health management

  • Calves are highly susceptible to worm infestations, so prioritise implementing a worming strategy, including monitoring, vaccination and testing.

  • A full 7-in-1 vaccination program is recommended.

  • Moving calves to high-quality pastures will reduce this risk, as dry pastures require feeding closer to the ground and, thus, closer contact with dung piles and any worm larvae.

  • In dry periods, contain calves in an area conducive to rest and conservation of energy and condition. It will also limit wear and tear on other pastures and keep pinkeye rates down due to dust.

Before you begin to wean early: Is it right for me?

While there are huge benefits and cost-savings to be had, some beef production systems do not suit early weaning. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether this is the right decision for you:

Weaning calves early requires more intensive management and changes in management practices. Without early weaning nutrition and husbandry, deaths, infections, and stunting are possible.

If you have a large calving spread, it may be difficult to manage well.

Early weaned calves won't look as good as those weaned off their mothers at later age.

The availability of labour. Leaving calves on their mothers is easier when staffing is limited. The demand for management skills also places a need for experienced staff.

A successful calf weaning system has specific requirements for feed storage facilities and feed handling equipment. If this is inadequate, you should rethink weaning early.

Prepare a feed budget. Ensure you have the necessary feed on hand, plus all costs, including freight, labour, equipment, and feeders.

Our advice?

Try this approach initially with a portion of your herd. Consider your first calf heifers as your first mob. They are traditionally the most difficult group to get back in calf but the most valuable in terms of potential future breeding years and genetics. Your oldest cows would be the next priority for early weaning.

You can measure your energy savings from early weaning at a range of calf growth rates by comparing the energy requirement for a lactating cow and her calf to the total energy requirement for a dry cow and weaned calf.

You can only maintain calf performance after weaning if the calf is given an improved diet via supplementary feed.

Always consider the energy requirements for a desired growth rate, costs, and availability of feed sources before deciding when to wean and onto what. For more information on’s revolutionary farm management platform and how it can help you reliably manage the weaning process and save you costly errors, contact the team today.

Until we meet again, Happy Weaning!

- The Dedicated Team of, 2023-01-17